Monday, September 23, 2019

Beneath the Black Spires

The latest book set in Galaxy's Edge is Delilah S. Dawson's Black Spire. She previously wrote Phasma, and this book takes off with some of the characters introduced there, though it isn't necessary to have read that one to read this one. Now, Delilah S. Dawson had a little bit of an advantage over Zoraida Cordova in writing her Galaxy's Edge book: she wasn't limited by the constraints of YA. While all of the references to things available in the theme park felt obvious and canned in YA, in an adult novel, they could be fleshed out with more details and have more of a seamless feel. Usually. (And I am not saying anything against the YA genre right now; it's just a fact that A Crash of Fate had a simpler writing stye with fewer details.)

I suppose also by this point I've been reading quite a bit about Black Spire Outpost, so it is starting to feel very much like a real place, a place that physically exists, a place where I have been and will be visiting again soon. I think of it and it almost feels like thinking of somewhere like Santa Fe, a place you adventure to and end up using as a place for self-contemplation. And all of the petrified trees remind me of the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert, which is one of my favorite places in Arizona. Now when I go to Oga's Cantina, I'll know I'm in the domain of the "ruler" of Black Spire. When I go to Dok Ondar's, I'll know to have caution. And if I visit Savi's Workshop, I'll know his place in it all.

Speaking of Savi, that's an interesting connection there to Lor San Tekka. His character is one of the mysteries still sitting unsolved in the films, so we started to get a little bit of his background here. This book turned out to be up there with books like Claudia Gray's Bloodline as far as giving away  info directly related to theorizing about the films.

Even though I didn't think I was at all interested in Phasma's character, I ended up enjoying the book about her, and I found many of the same types of things to like in this one, as well. Characterization was front and center, even if we got some action along the way. And we had a good helping of nature and small communities and rural living, the types of things I always end up enjoying best.

Honestly, it was just a fun read, what felt like a return to classic Star Wars. Just a good old story about some random characters having to find themselves, to deal with their brokenness or their self-doubt, some people who get thrown together and find a greater story at work in the galaxy, a greater meaning in the web of events that unfold. Sure, now we know what Vi Moradi is doing at Galaxy's Edge, but Disneyland aside, we also simply got a good novel. Not shameless marketing, just a story that needed to be told.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A Downton Tea

Tea is served.

Today we have Vanilla Viennese Whirls and Blackcurrant Jam from Mrs. Patmore's kitchen, accompanied by grapes, strawberries, and smoked provolone. The bread for the jam, I confess, is in fact garlic and will not be consumed along with the jam (unless perhaps just for the insanity of it); it was simply the only small enough bread I had for my tea pictures.

My tea, as well, is an odd choice. It's simply the weird herbal blend I happened to already be making; it has nettle, echinacea, tulsi, skullcap, fennel, ginger, and clove. Not quite the Downton afternoon tea blend, eh, but this is real life. And I used to be all over buying the Downton blends at World Market (where I also got the pastries and jam, of course), but I'm kind of done now; now I just stick to blending my own loose teas.

The rest is quite nice, though. Never underestimate the fun of slices of cheese along with some fruit and dessert. Currants are one of the flavors I quite enjoy and wish I could get more of. World Market used to have currant flavored gummy candies; I think they were from Germany. Those were great. I do get currant jelly from time to time, so getting a Downton Abbey jelly was a reasonable purchase. It's novelty but it's also something that I like and can enjoy eating, and it won't leave me with a random piece of merchandise taking up space when the fun's worn off and I no longer want it.

The Viennese Whirls are lovely, too. Two flaky biscuits with cream in the middle, everything tasting of sweet vanilla. I don't care for cream in and of itself; it has to have flavor. And I find these quite nice. They have the tiniest hint of plum in them to add some springiness to the taste. If I were going to have a tea party, I suppose I could just head over to see what Ruze Cake House in Downton Scottsdale has today instead of buying packaged pastries, but still, these are fun. Again, if I'm going to play Downton Abbey merch, this is the way to do it.

All this to say that the movie is almost here. Naturally, I'll come back later with my thoughts on that one.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Beauty and the Beast Revisited

Beauty and the Beast has long been one of my favorites. The movie is among the best of the Disney animated films, and I am always drawn to that theme (it's much the same story, essentially, as pieces like Jane Eyre, which book I have referred to as being my soul). It's funny watching videos from Fresh Baked (that YouTube channel where they go to Disneyland every week to share the Disney winds with everyone) because David isn't a fan of the message that Beauty and the Beast can get across.

The thing is, I get it more now than I did before. That is, I always saw his point and simply could argue that that wasn't the only way to view the story. But maybe now I see it. It's especially true if you look at just that movie--whereas I have been looking at the movie, at Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve's novel (which is more a marriage plot story typical of the time period than a fairy tale, even with the fantastical element), at picture books of the story, and at all the Beauty and the Beast type stories (like Jane Eyre or Twilight or a million others). So now I realize that looking at all of these other things in addition to the movie was making me miss the key difference.

In Disney's movie, the Beast's character changes after he meets Belle. That's great: it's great for us to help our fellow people. He had to learn to love and that's great. But those themes are mixed in and confused with the theme of loving the inner person rather than the outer person. That's where the issue is.

If you read the story of Beauty and the Beast, the Beast keeps proposing to Belle and she keeps saying no until one day she realizes that he's the Prince from her (literal) dreams and so she can say yes because he isn't a monster, just a man, and when she says yes, the spell will break. So Belle (actually, she's usually just literally called Belle; the translations also translate her name) is truly learning to look beyond the Beast's exterior to see that he is a person.

Movie Belle also does that. And of course the film makes a big deal about the inner versus outer person. Gaston, of course, is the handsome one with the unpleasant interior. But Belle loves Beast as she sees him change and become a different person. Initially, he was on the inside that same Beast that he was on the outside. It's with Belle that he becomes a little kinder. So that's why David has an issue with the movie sending the message that you can change another person, that you should look at a person as someone you can change--versus loving (or not loving, romantically speaking, of course) a person as they are.

I kind of tend to agree with him now and the movie is slipping a bit in its perfection (I mean, I also have a bit of an issue with the demeaning view toward small towns). Still, though, you could argue that Belle did see the Beast as who he was the whole time and she wasn't trying to change him or make him into something else. He was raging and tyrannical and abusive . . . and when she saw that he had changed, then she fell in love with him.

After all, the spell can be broken in the movie when the cursed prince falls in love and then earns love in return. He had to first change in order to love and only then could he be someone that another person would fall in love with.

So if you nitpick, you can come to any conclusion you want. The point of the story isn't supposed to be an unhealthy love story. (Side note: this is why in Jane Eyre, you only achieve the happy ending after Jane chooses to leave Rochester and he has a personal epiphany on his own.) It's supposed to be about having a good core, a kind center.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Little Secrets: Crispy Peanut Butter Wafers in Dark Chocolate

Previously I've looked at the M&M's type product from Little Secrets; now we have their version of a KitKat. Specifically, this is the Crispy Peanut Butter in Dark Chocolate. So a KitKat with peanut butter--Reese's has done something like this before, too (and probably many other companies, as well, I realize).

You come into something like this expecting a big difference with the chocolate, but it's the wafers that really make this into something entirely different from a KitKat. And I unashamedly make the direct comparison to KitKats because KitKats are obviously the big chocolate wafer out there, so this is naturally intended to be an alternative. The wafers here are thicker and more present. With that and the fact that this is dark chocolate (mild dark chocolate but still dark), you have less of that creamy texture with crunch that a KitKat offers. And it's that texture that makes KitKats a win, so I do feel like I'm missing something with the texture on this one.

Possibly also I just want more of a greasy texture because the peanut butter reminds me of Reese's Cups, which are extremely (and I'll truthfully admit, delightfully) greasy. I like peanut butter just fine, but I don't need it in chocolate wafers. So perhaps I'd enjoy a milk chocolate and non-peanut-butter version of this chocolate more. I don't necessarily want to taste peanuts, mild dark chocolate, and wafers; I want them all to blend together into one taste, one texture.

All of this isn't to say that this is a bad product. If I didn't have all the standard candy in my mind, maybe I wouldn't think so hard about this one. It's enjoyable to eat. And it's more fair trade chocolate candy, which we need more of. There's a good chance that I won't be buying it again myself, but if someone offered some to me, I'd take it. So it hits that spot of being nice but not quite what I want it to be.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Star Wars Myths

I say that I like Star Wars because it's fantasy. So a new book called Star Wars: Myths and Fables with a dragon on the cover? Yes, please.

Strangely, though, such a great book didn't seem to get much in the way of the usual Star Wars marketing. The stores near me didn't even have it in stock. I thought, okay, they'll probably just get it in later. After some weeks had passed, though, and they still didn't have it, I decided to go over to a store over in that direction that I don't usually drive to because they had it in stock. (I'm weird so I preferred to do this rather than either order online or have the store order it specifically for me.) I got there and couldn't find it, so I asked for help, only to be told that it was an ebook only. What?

When I got home, I checked the page again myself because how could I not have noticed that, even if a weird fluke in the system was saying that store had a book physically in stock that was not a physical book. Sure enough, it said it was a hardcover. So I ordered it online after all because how could I be ordering a book to be shipped to me that was only an ebook?

Quite a beautiful ebook, too, eh? It's a slightly oversized hardcover, though fairly slim. The book design and that fantastic dragon cover make it suitable as a coffee table book--so again, I really don't understand why this book wasn't stocked more. There must be a story to it: I can see this being an impulse buy for so many people simply because it looks so great.

There are nine stories in this book. They are distinct from short story collections that have come out in the past. George Mann purposefully gave the writing that myth tone that is evocative of things like Beowulf. That simple style and frequent use of passive voice. It's all meant to sound like stories told out loud, to children and adults alike, over generations. At times, some could come out to be a tad more simplistic than I would like, but perhaps that's because I prefer the myths angle to the fables angle and many of these tried to hit that line right in between the two.

More Galaxy's Edge in here, but not hampered by deliberate marketing. Here, Batuu was simply a location.

Overall this was a terribly fun book for a lit. person; it brought back lots of college memories and I kept wondering what topics it would inspire if we'd included it in one of my classes. And Obi-Wan lightsaber battling a dragon? That alone made it all worth it.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Between the Lines

It's my custom to not talk about personal things here. I mean, I hope I get kind of deep sometimes and I'll sometimes talk about places where I have gone, but that's about it. Still, it's a blog, right, and blogs can have a lot of personal things in them. And facts are just facts, personal or not.

So the truth of what has been perhaps very obviously between the lines of my words lately is that I have been trying to figure out life after a break up. It's hard when you give someone your heart and they give it back. You can alternate between not ever wanting to give your heart again and desperately wanting to give your heart again. It's hard.

It's hard to feel beautiful after rejection. It's hard to know that, someday, someone will stay with you. It's hard to remind yourself that, while there are times when you certainly do want someone, there are plenty of things you enjoy doing on your own, too.

I don't play games. Anyone who has ever tried flirting with me has probably thought I was acting all high-above-them-not-interested when in fact I legitimately never noticed. Boldness doesn't come naturally to me, but honesty does--so I don't understand the flirting games, nor do I notice them.

At least, I never did before. Now I tell myself that the person I talked to today was just being personable and conversational and professionally friendly. Except that can I deny that there was a hint of interest, too?

Maybe it's because I never saw myself as someone that a person would flirt with. But am I not young and beautiful and smart and artsy and unique and intriguing? Do none of those things come across in the slightest that someone might show a hint of interest?

My point is, it was nice. It was nice to know that rejection doesn't mean I have no value. And no, I'm not saying that one's value is defined by another person's romantic interest in you--of course not. But it's nice to know that someone can think of you that way, that someone will think of you that way, someday. It's nice to know that the visible image of you is a pleasant one, not one held back by all the flaws you see in yourself. Maybe I'm not as broken as I think.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Walking through the Desert Painted

I believe in storms. Storms come and we either pass through them or the storms pass on. The storms will continue to come, but sometimes we can seek things beyond the storms, too.

September has become my favorite time to visit the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest. It began when I went there one year for my birthday since it was a place I'd always wanted to visit. Turns out that September tends to be the best time to go, too. This year I went just a little early, at the very end of August. The difference? A tad fewer wildflowers and I drove through a storm to get there and through a storm to get back home--though the destination itself was free of the storm, save for a few raindrops towards the end of the day.

The clouds were great, though. Cloud coverage (and probably moisture, too) make the colors in certain sections much more vivid. The Blue Mesa Loop Trail, for instance, takes on an otherworldly look on a cloudy day but appears slightly more common on a sunny day.

I have taken to adventuring on my own these days. The long drives give me time for self-refection and contemplation, which I have a lot of to do lately. And I'm the type of person that can enjoy something just as well by myself as with others. I won't go out hiking by myself, but excursions and adventures I can do.

The Blue Mesa trail I mentioned is probably my favorite part of the Painted Desert. It's a one mile loop trail, perfect for a solo traveler. I happened to literally be the only person on the trail that afternoon, so I could walk around and smile to myself and enjoy it all just for me. Just me, the purple and white mesas, the petrified wood, a few flowers, the clouds, and lots of wind (that naughty wind tried to knock me over on the narrow downhill section, but I held my own). Nothing more peaceful and nothing better for a time of self-reflection and self-discovery.

I have so many pictures already of the park but I had to take a hundred more because it literally never looks the same way twice. The colors are always changing. Maybe that's part of why I love the Painted Desert; it is ever-shifting and yet always recognizably itself. It can transport you to a thousand places all in a single glance . . . and then you can come back later and discover a thousand new places in that same old glance.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Into Deep Space

About a year ago, I started watching Deep Space Nine for the first time. As I've said before, I grew up with The Next Generation, watched the original series when I was in college, and got to Voyager a couple years ago (here's my post on that series). I figured Deep Space Nine would end up being my least favorite (I'm also planning to watch Enterprise eventually, but I literally have no idea what I'll think of that one). It seemed to have too many Ferengi.

While I definitely did prefer Voyager to Deep Space Nine, the reasons for the preference are more complicated. It took me a year to get through the show and it definitely felt like a long time. I had a hard time getting into it and then I lost interest a couple of times and had to force myself back in. Initially, I felt like Sisko didn't really have a defined character; I didn't know who he was. So I figured that was the point. We didn't have a ship; we had a space station. And we didn't have a captain who was the head of it all; we had a commander who felt more like a side character than the protagonist. It wasn't until around the time that he became captain that his character started developing--and the whole turn he took towards the later seasons of becoming Emissary was interesting.

I did like the exploration of Bajor and their belief system. I finally got some context on where Ensign Roe was coming from. Sci-fi tends to portray religions as either primitive of mystical, so it was kind of refreshing to simply have religion be religion. And I like Kira's character. You describe her and she sounds like she would be the stereotypical 1990's fictional female--the strong, independent, fierce figure. But she's all those things and her own person--she's also tender and affectionate and deeply spiritual. I like that combination. And it adds to her strength that she had two love stories throughout the course of the series and yet not in that exploiting way (that feels so stereotypical of Star Trek) of characters like Counselor Troi. I like Bajor; I want to go back and re-watch all the Next Generation episodes with Bajorans in them now.

While I'm on the topic of Kira's relationships, I didn't like Odo. So, yeah, I don't mind that they didn't end up together in the end. His character served as the exploration for what it means to be human in this series. But I didn't care for his character. Maybe I just don't like his hair, I don't know.

The Ferengi, on the other hand, I was surprisingly okay with. Usually I'd have to do the eye roll for a Ferengi-centric episode, but in this show the Ferengi were a little different. We could laugh at the stereotypes but we also got some unexpected character exploration. Quark, who says he's all about greed but also does things that show he genuinely cares about the people around him. Nog, who enters Starfleet because he wants better than what his dad has. Rom, who sees that his son is right and chooses a career that plays to his strengths and interests rather than his people's expectations. Their quest to find humanity I did find interesting.

Is it an unpopular opinion that I didn't really mind what happened with Dax's character? Maybe it's because the contrast was between the tall and strong Jadzia and the smaller, less certain Ezri--and I'm also small and not always certain (the funny part about that is that Nicole de Boer is 5'5'' and I'm 5', so she's rather taller than I am--they just don't cast a lot of actresses as tiny as I am in sci-fi [or maybe in general], do they?).

So we did get plenty of the character exploration that Star Trek has become known for. But we also got lots of battles and that and I don't really care for watching too many battles and that. So that held my interest less. And the fact of raising the stakes was two-sided. Sure, it makes sense that people won't always get along--but you also lose some of that optimism that Star Trek started off with in the 60's. Do we want to be realistic in fiction or do we want to portray our hopes?

The whole series has a rockier feel than the others. The Next Generation came into its own over the course of each season as it discovered what it could be. Voyager had a pretty clear idea of what it was setting out to be. Deep Space Nine was much more of an experiment and it shows. There's some quite good material in there but also some spots where it just didn't hold my attention. So definitely worth watching; it adds to the mix. Just probably not my favorite of it all.